Albert Haseltine Smith, or “Ab,” as he was known to friends, was born on May 20, 1867. Smith was part of Philadelphia’s “First Family of Golf,” including his broth- ers William Poultney Smith (GAP Hall of Famer) and H. Pratt Smith. He attended the University of Pennsylvania (1890) and worked as an insurance broker in the family
firm. Smith was a modest man known to be very camera shy, and therefore
few images of him exist from newspapers or periodicals of the era. Along
with his many influential friends, Smith enjoyed the social and athletic component of club life as a member of Huntingdon Valley Country Club, Merion
Cricket Club and Philadelphia Country Club.
As a golfer, Smith was regarded as the
best the city had to offer at the turn of the
20th century and the decade or so beyond.
He claimed the Association’s first Amateur
title in 1897, and duplicated this feat in 1911.
He competed in the 1898 U.S. Amateur at
Morris County Golf Club, reaching the final
16, losing to the eventual champion, Findlay Douglas. In this Championship, Smith
was praised alongside Walter Travis, C.B.
Macdonald, H.J. Whigham, and other great
American amateur champions. Smith also
played well in the 1899 and 1901 U.S. Amateur championships, reaching match play
and winning against high-level competition.
He was a regular participant in regional
team events, a member of the Lesley Cup
team in 1912 and a regular competitor in the
prestigious Lynnewood Hall Tournament at
Based upon his promising degree of
national success, Smith fully expected to improve his game and reach the very top of the
amateur ranks in America. But this was not
to be the case. He found that amateur golfers
from other major cities were advancing at a
greater pace than those of Philadelphia. He
attributed this to a series of specific factors,
which he immediately set out to remedy.
With this fire burning, Smith became
THE voice for change in Philadelphia. He
first addressed his discontent in the local
newspapers, outlining all of the points that he felt required improvement.
Second, he unified his talented colleagues with the common aim to fix
the conditions that plagued golf in the region. Among those committed
to Smith’s call to arms were Cameron Buxton, Rev. Simon Carr, George
Crump, Robert W. Lesley, Howard Perrin, George Sargent, A. W. Tillinghast
and Hugh and Alan Wilson. The dedication of these individuals prompted
an infectious spirit of philanthropy that motivated additional Philadel-
phians to make their own enduring contributions, such as Robert Bender,
William Flynn, J. Franklin Meehan, Frederick W. Taylor, George C. Thomas,
Howard Toomey and others.
As a leader of the Philadelphia School, Smith took particular interest in
the pursuit of a public golf venue for the city. He championed the development of Cobbs Creek Golf Club in Fairmount Park, and was the leader of
various committees that ushered the concept through the stifling barriers
of city government. He is also credited with the course’s co-design.
In the formative years of Philadelphia golf, Huntingdon Valley was vir-
tually the only golf course that provided a championship test, and Smith
was its longtime Greens Chairman. He made comprehensive recommen-
dations and personally carried out the work to raise the standard of its
design and to increase the level of difficulty.
He was therefore looked upon by the other
prominent Philadelphia men as the primary
expert in this discipline.
Smith remained heavily involved in
Philadelphia public golf when he and Hugh
Wilson were appointed to a city committee
in 1922 tasked with identifying additional
sites for public courses. They ultimately
recommended the sites of today’s Franklin
D. Roosevelt Golf Course and Juniata
Golf Course. In 1927, Smith designed and
constructed Karakung, the second course at
Cobb’s Creek. This places Smith at the heart
of golf in Philadelphia for a 30-year period
between 1897 and 1927.
One of Smith’s most enduring contribu-
tions to the game is his link to a golfing term
known the world over. Smith and his golfing
brethren often gathered in Atlantic City for
wintertime golf outings. On one occasion
in 1899, he was playing the long par- 5 12th
hole (as it was then played,) at Atlantic City
Country Club. He lashed a prodigious shot
that ended up six inches or so from the
hole. One of the onlookers, likely brother
W.P., exclaimed, “That’s a bird of a shot!” or
words to that effect. In H.B. Martin’s “Fifty
Years of American Golf,” Smith recounted
the event: I suggested that when one of us
plays a hole in one under par he receives
double compensation. The (others) agreed
and we began right away, just as soon as the next one came, to call it
a ‘birdie.’ Thus, the term “birdie” was originated and has stuck in the
lexicon of golf ever since.
Smith died on Nov. 3, 1940 at the age of 74. Throughout his life, he
maintained a passion for the game. The Philadelphia School he captained
not only altered the character of the game locally and regionally, but its
work rippled straight across America for decades. Smith was the first and
loudest voice that prompted this great movement. m
Albert Haseltine Smith
The First Voice of the Philadelphia School BY ANDREW MUTCH, PhD
One of Smith’s most enduring
contributions to the game is
his link to a golfing term
known the world over:
2016 GAP HALL OF FAME INDUCTEE